PITTSFIELD -- One of the three candidates competing for the reconfigured 1st Congres sional District seat has issued a strong protest against the ground rules for tonight's radio debate.
Three Vox Communications outlets are airing Berkshire County's only debate among incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, current register of deeds and former state senator Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr., and writer-activist Bill Shein.
Shein took issue with a statement by the stations' News Director Larry Kratka that the debate would focus on district and federal issues other than financing, a centerpiece of Shein's campaign.
"If the discussion turns to topics such as a candidate's sources of campaign contributions," Kratka told The Eagle for an article published on Wednes day, "I'm going to stop it. That's not what we're here to do."
But Shein declared on Wednesday, "It's simply outrageous and unacceptable that WBEC -- a recipient of significant advertising dollars from Rep. Neal -- would make the source of a candidate's campaign donations off-limits in Thursday's debate."
Shein told The Eagle that he would take part in the scheduled debate, which will be video-recorded and televised several times for Time Warner Cable subscribers via Pittsfield Com munity Television's Channel 18.
The live debate airs this evening at 6 on WBEC (AM 1420) in Pittsfield, WNAW (AM 1230) in North Adams, and WSBS (AM 860, FM 94.1) in Great Barrington.
"I've agreed to every debate opportunity," Shein said. "I will participate with the expectation of a broad conversation of all the issues at play in the campaign."
According to the candidate, "There is no question among anyone who watched our debate last week [in Springfield on WGBY-TV] or followed the campaign that without question, my campaign has been the most substantive with the broadest range of issues."
He acknowledged that he has "certainly made campaign funding central because it's at the root of bad policy in just about every area. What we've seen is that too few incumbent politicians want to do anything to change what all voters understand is a big part of what's wrong in Washington today."
In a statement released to news media, Shein also contended that Neal has spent substantial sums for radio ads on WBEC and other Vox-owned stations and that WBEC aired "continuous, on-air promotions that said I was the Green-Rainbow Party candidate for Congress." Shein said the station's press release announcing the debate contained the same error.
Kratka said on Wednesday that the mistake was corrected quickly. Shein is a longtime registered Democrat.
The news director also said he would stand by his statement regarding issues to be debated this evening.
Shein contended that WBEC has not responded to his requests for rate information so he can consider placing ads on the station.
"While I'm not an expert on the economics of the radio business, I'm fairly certain that radio stations want paying advertisers," Shein stated.
In response, Peter Barry, vice president and market manager for Vox Com munications Berk shire Group, told The Eagle that he handles political advertising requests himself and that he had not been approached by Shein's campaign.
"We're a for-profit business and we're not looking to turn down business," said Barry, adding that he would be quite willing to work with Shein on ad rates and schedules.
As for debate topics, Barry said Kratka's intent was to avoid turning the WBEC debate "into a free-for-all. We're looking at a structured debate with planned questions, not any topic under the sun."
Barry acknowledged that campaign financing is "a viable issue, but we wanted to come up with fresh topics." He added that if one of the planned questions leads to campaign funding, "we're not going to stop the guy from speaking."
Barry described campaign financing as "a juicy topic, but it's been beaten to death."
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Nuciforo pressed Neal to take part in one final debate on Friday on WWLP-22 News, a Springfield television station. Neal agreed to debate twice in the campaign, while Shein and Nuciforo called for at least six meetings.